Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court entering final judgment against a nursing home arising from actions taken by a nursing assistant at the nursing home, holding that it was impossible for the trial court to reach its conclusion based on the limited evidence presented at a plea-in-bar hearing. The nursing assistant in this case molested and raped a resident at the nursing home. The resident's estate sued the nursing home, and the jury returned a verdict against the nursing home. The nursing home appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in holding prior to trial that the nursing assistant had committed the molestation and rape while acting with the scope of his employment and erred in its evidentiary rulings regarding the admissibility of expert testimony. The Supreme Court remanded the case for retrial, holding that the trial court erred in (1) removing the scope-of-employment issue from the jury based upon its ruling on the nursing home's plea in bar, which it later implemented through its ruling on a motion in limine and through its jury instruction; and (2) excluding the nursing home's expert witness and in admitting challenged testimony of the Estate's expert witness. View "Our Lady of Peace v. Morgan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, second offense, upon Defendant's conditional guilty plea, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's pretrial motion to suppress. At issue in this case was whether, at the time Defendant was seized by detectives, the detectives had reasonable suspicion to believe that they were about to be assaulted with a weapon. Defendant argued on appeal that the detectives seized him in violation of the reasonable suspicion standard adopted in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that, considering the totality of the circumstances, the detectives in this case had the same practical, experience-based concern for their safety as the police officer had in Terry, and therefore, the trial court correctly denied Defendant's motion to suppress. View "Hill v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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In this medical malpractice action the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment entered by the circuit court on a jury verdict returned in favor of Plaintiff, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Plaintiff brought a medical malpractice action against Defendant, alleging that he negligently performed a blepharoplasty procedure resulting in permanent injury to Plaintiff's right elevator muscle and leaving her functionally blind in her right eye. The jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff and awarded her compensatory damages. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant's motion in liming and in permitting Plaintiff to cross-examine the defense medical expert regarding matters that were the subject of a disciplinary proceeding against the medical expert; and (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant's motions for mistrial and post-trial motions addressing its rulings on the consent issue and in refusing to provide instructions to the jury that consent was not at issue. View "Gross v. Stuart" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court and set aside the award of the condemnation commissioners to the Helmick Family Farm, LLC for a taking of slightly more than two acres of land along with some easements, holding that the reasonable probability of rezoning of property taken through condemnation may be relevant to the property's fair market value and that Helmick presented sufficient concrete facts to warrant submission of the question of reasonable probability of rezoning to a jury. On appeal, Helmick argued that exclusion of certain evidence prevented the commissioners from considering probative evidence concerning the fair market value of the land at issue. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) ample authority supports the admissibility of evidence that the property taken has a reasonable probability of rezoning; (2) nothing in prior cases forecloses the admissibility of such evidence; (3) there are certain parameters concerning such evidence; and (4) Helmick presented sufficient concrete facts to warrant submission of the question of reasonable probability of rezoning to a jury. View "Helmick Family Farm v. Commissioner of Highways" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder, holding that the trial court did not violate the holding of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) by permitting the prosecutor to exercise a peremptory strike of an African-American juror. Defendant's counsel conceded in the trial court that the prosecutor gave a race-neutral reason for the peremptory strike. However, at a post-trial hearing, Defendant's counsel told the trial court that the prosecutor's stated reason for the strike was not supported by the transcript. On appeal, Defendant argued that the strike was racially motivated. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to set aside the verdict based upon his Batson challenge because the record provided ample support for the trial court's finding that Defendant had not met his burden of proving purposeful racial discrimination. View "Bethea v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court awarding a monetary judgment, injunctive relief, and attorney fees and costs to a homeowners association (the HOA) in its suit against Homeowners for violations of the HOA's guidelines governing the use of holiday decorations, holding that the trial court erred in finding that the HOA's seasonal guidelines were enforceable under the HOA's declaration of restrictive covenants. On appeal, Homeowners argued that the seasonal guidelines - the basis of the fines imposed against Homeowners - exceeded the HOA's authority under the HOA's amended declaration and were thus unenforceable. The Supreme Court agreed with the Homeowners and reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of the HOA and its ancillary award of attorney fees and costs, holding that the seasonal guidelines exceeded the scope of the restrictive covenants and were not reasonably related to any of them. View "Sainani v. Belmont Glen Homeowners Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Petitioner's habeas corpus petition without prejudice to Petitioner filing a habeas petition challenging Va. Code 19.2-169.3(F) or his seeking expedited review so as to permit timely resolution of his claim, holding that Petitioner's petition must be dismissed. Petitioner challenged the legality of his confinement under a circuit court order ordering him to periods of confinement in a state psychiatric hospital for "continued treatment" and requested dismissal of his capital murder indictment. Since filing this habeas petition, Petitioner's confinement pursuant to the order had ended and twice received evidence and reexamined whether Petitioner satisfied the factual requirements of Va. Code 19.2-169.3(F). The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, holding that because Petitioner was not currently detained pursuant to the challenged order or the evidence supporting it, a determination by the Court that the order was incorrect or improper could not directly impact Petitioner's present confinement. View "Trevathan v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court delegating its final approval of final accountings submitted by a trustee and conservator as provided by statute and directing that the Commissioner of Accounts conduct that approval of the final accountings, holding that the circuit court erred. In a circuit court order, the court ruled that a previous order as not yet final but would become so when the Commissioner filed the approval of the final accounts with the clerk of the circuit court. The Supreme Court dismissed a first appeal without prejudice because the previous order was not a final, appealable order. In a second appeal, the trustee argued that the circuit court erred by adopting a procedure for the review and approval of the final accounts that deprived the beneficiaries of a meaningful opportunity and due process to review and challenge the accountings. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the circuit court erroneously delegated its approval of the final accounts to the Commissioner without a certification that it had made a personal examination of the exceptions. View "Murphy v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's appeal from his conviction, pursuant to guilty pleas, of multiple felonies and misdemeanors, holding that the court of appeals erred in determining that Appellant's guilty pleas waived his right to appeal. On appeal, Appellant argued that his convictions were void because the trial court did not find that his pleas were knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. The court of appeals rejected Appellant's argument and further determined that Appellant waived his right to appeal. The court then dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Appellant's guilty pleas did not waive his right to appeal; and (2) when entry of a guilty plea waives an issue for appeal, the correct disposition is denial, not dismissal. View "Henderson v. Cook" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court upholding a jury verdict finding Defendant liable for defamation of Plaintiff, holding that the trial court erred in its gatekeeping function by failing properly to instruct the jury as to actionable statements of fact versus statements that were merely opinion and thus nonactionable. Plaintiff filed a defamation action based on an email Defendant had sent, quoting eleven statements in her complaint as allegedly defamatory. Defendant demurred to the complaint, arguing that the statements could not sustain a defamation claim. The trial court sustained the demurrer in part, finding that the first eight statements were actionable statements of fact but the last three statements were statements of opinion incapable of supporting a defamation claim. During trial, Plaintiff introduced Defendant's email into evidence in support of her defamation claim. The jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to consider the last three statements along with the first eight statements in deciding the defamation claim. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the trial court erred in submitting to the jury the last three statements in Defendant's trial, which were mere statements of opinion. View "Handberg v. Goldberg" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury